George and I attended a funeral for Cousin Rod last week. Family members, the bishop, and stake president all spoke in praise of Rod’s life—speculating about the reunions he was enjoying with departed loved ones. Funeral speakers knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Rod had merely crossed over into another, better world.
George’s 76-year-old cousin, Jim, was in a wheelchair, a towel covering his catheter bag. Recovery from his recent bladder cancer surgery is complicated by his congestive heart disease and diabetes. His will likely be the next family funeral. Jim, a lifelong Mormon, has served missions and fulfilled callings up to and including stake president. While his children were discussing plans for serving couple missions upon retirement, Jim told George privately: “I hope there is something beyond this life.”
Jim, who is facing death, no longer knows beyond a shadow of a doubt. I have heard enough elderly Mormons express doubts about a next life to suspect that for most, hope replaces faith as their rendezvous with death approaches. The elderly are generally hesitant about expressing doubts—they surely don’t care to undermine the testimonies of their children and grandchildren. Doubts slip out in one-on-one conversations—never in public discourse.
Even General Authorities who are credited with having a “sure witness” do everything possible to preserve their lives during terminal illness. Calling this life “only a small part of eternity” seems less convincing when it’s about to end.
End-of-life doubts may be less worrisome in faiths that don’t emphasize certitude as much as Mormons do. I wonder what the effect would be if those nearing the end of their mortal lives expressed their doubts openly. Would younger members doubt the validity of Church teachings or would they simply question the valiancy of the doubter?